Troops loyal to Burkina Faso's government have freed the president and the prime minister — but the coup leader said on Tuesday he was still in charge, despite the passing of a 10am deadline set by loyalist soldiers for his forces to surrender or face attack.
General Gilbert Diendere — leader of the elite RSP military unit loyal to the former President Blaise Compaore, which seized power last Wednesday — told a news conference on Tuesday he was ready to negotiate after troops loyal to the government marched on the capital. But first, he was awaiting the outcome of the summit of West African regional leaders being held in Nigeria, he said.
On Sunday, the West African negotiators announced an proposal for a compromise, under which elections that were scheduled for October 11 would be held by November 22, and loyalists of Compaore would be allowed to run. But supporters of the government and many ordinary citizens have denounced that proposal, on the grounds that it gives amnesty to the coup leaders.
The coup derailed a transition in Burkina Faso, which had been preparing for an October 11 election that aimed to restore democracy nearly a year after a popular uprising toppled Compaore. The former president held power for 27 years in the landlocked West African country.
"I'm not stalling for time. I'm within the time allotted to me," Diendere told reporters. "I am still the president of the National Democratic Council (junta)."
Few people ventured out onto the streets of the capital Ouagadougou as the deadline set for 10am passed. Presidential guard forces loyal to Diendere held the presidential palace but troops opposing the coup held most other strategic points.
Loyalist troops said they were preparing to attack the Camp Naba Koom military base near the capital's presidential palace, which is held by presidential guard troops who staged the coup.
Ex-spy chief Diendere and his presidential guard rebelled on Wednesday, raiding a cabinet meeting and detaining the president and other ministers.
VICE News spoke by telephone to the coup leader late on Monday night, as he was awaiting the arrival of army troops loyal to the government.
VICE News: When did you learn that the National Armed Forces were marching on Ougadougou with the aim of disarming you?
General Gilbert Diendere: A preliminary agreement was reached during negotiations [on Sunday]. It was going to be debated Tuesday morning in Abuja, during a special summit of heads of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). So we were awaiting this summit when we found out that some factions within the country were getting ready to attack.
Were you surprised by the reaction of the National Armed Forces?
Surprised? No, not really. However, we did feel that, since we were trying to reach an agreement, there was no longer any reason to try anything. We were planning to stick to the agreement.
But the agreement didn't appear to satisfy the people of Burkina Faso. Critics were particularly vocal about the guarantee of amnesty for coup leaders.
Yes, but it's a preliminary agreement, that can still be discussed. There's no problem on our side, we're not wedded to it.
Do you feel overwhelmed by what is happening?
What happened, happened. Whether I am overwhelmed or not, I am taking responsibility.
Do you have control over the elements of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) who have been asked by the National Armed Forces to lay down their weapons?
I am not the commanding officer of the RSP. The RSP has a commainding officer, who answers to the army chief of staff. I'm a former member of the RSP, so in that capacity, I am close to the RSP. But I cannot say that I have control over everyone.
Are you disassociating yourself from some of those within the RSP?
No. I can't disassociate myself. I've been there for a while and I created this regiment. So I can't disassociate myself.
What will happen next? Will you surrender to the army?
No, we're not there yet. People are wrong when they say the RSP is not [part of] the army. The RSP is entirely a part of the National Armed Forces. We have started negotiating with the leaders of those units that came from elsewhere. We think we will be able to reach an agreement by [Tuesday] morning.
Are you thinking of fleeing?
Fleeing? No. We're not at that point. Fleeing is not a happy outcome. We have to find a solution that can guarantee peace and stability in the country. Imagine if I left: those who will stay behind will do whatever they want and that won't be good for the country.
Was it you who decided to stage a coup?
I am responsible for what happened. No one forced me to assume responsibility. I wasn't dragged here, with a rope around my neck, to assume responsibility and to accept. I am a responsible man, I have that responsibility.
What role did the CDP (Congress for Democracy and Progress party, loyalists of ousted President Compaore) play in these events?
The CDP has nothing to do with what happened, I am personally close to some of the members of the CDP. The party leader and I come from the same province, but that's not reason enough for me to associate the CDP to what happened. The CDP was not aware of what I was doing.
A rumored 500 troops out of the RSP's 1,300 troops have defected.
No one has defected from the RSP. The people within the RSP stick together. I can't say that there aren't one or two people who are opposed to it, but as you can see, no one is protesting. There is major solidarity.
What will you do over the next few hours?
We are monitoring the situation. Discussions are underway with the leaders of these outside units. Negotiations are going well, we've had a first round. Everyone is doing everything they can to avoid pointless bloodshed. Because if there are clashes, there will be bloodshed, and that won't be for the good of Burkina Faso.
It could go as far as clashes?
Yes. That's the worst-case scenario. We should avoid that. That's not what we want. It would be a shame.
Do you fear for your life?
I am deeply committed to a cause, and I don't think fearing for my life comes into it. I am first and foremost a soldier, and every soldier sacrifices himself for his homeland, before all else.
Interview by Pierre Mareczko. Follow him on Twitter at: @MareczkoP
Reuters contributed to this report.